Washington: The United States called Tuesday for a ceasefire and peace talks in Yemen, as the Saudi-led military coalition sent more than 10,000 new troops toward a vital rebel-held port city ahead of a new assault.
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said the US had been watching the conflict “for long enough,” adding that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are in a US-backed coalition fighting Shiite Huthi rebels, are ready for talks.
“We have got to move toward a peace effort here, and we can’t say we are going to do it some time in the future,” Mattis said at the US Institute of Peace in Washington.
“We need to be doing this in the next 30 days.”
He said the US is calling for all warring parties to meet with United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths in Sweden in November and “come to a solution.”
US-Saudi ties have cooled in recent weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the conservative kingdom, that has also tarnished the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the conflict between embattled Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, whose government is recognized by the United Nations, and the Huthis in 2015.
Nearly 10,000 people have since been killed and the country now stands at the brink of famine, with more than 22 million Yemenis — three quarters of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance.
The pro-government coalition deployed its reinforcements to the Red Sea coast ahead of a new offensive on Hodeida “within days,” a military official told AFP earlier.
He said they would also “secure areas liberated” from the Iran-linked Huthi rebels, and that forces from Sudan, part of the coalition, had moved in to “secure” areas around the city.
Huthi rebels have for the past 10 days been stationing fighters on rooftops of buildings in Hodeida city, government military officials told AFP.
The adjacent port is the entry point for more than 70 percent of imports to the impoverished country.
– Peace is ‘the only way’ –
The United States has faced fierce international criticism for its role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition, especially after a series of strikes killed scores of civilians.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for an end to all coalition air strikes in Yemen’s populated areas.
“The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV (drone) strikes from Huthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“Subsequently, coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen.”
Mattis said US support is based primarily on teaching the Saudi air force to improve targeting and to not drop bombs when there is any doubt about what they might hit.
“Our goal right now is to achieve a level of capability by those forces fighting against the Huthis that they are not killing innocent people,” he said.
Mattis said the ceasefire should be based on a pullback of Huthi rebels from the border and a ceasefire, and the parties must come together to end the war.
“That will permit the special envoy Martin Griffiths… to get them together in Sweden and end this war. That is the only way we are going to really solve this,” he added.
Last month, UN-led peace talks failed to take off after Huthi rebels refused to fly to Geneva over what they said was the UN’s failure to guarantee a safe return to the capital Sanaa, which the group has controlled since 2014.
Pompeo said the peace talks would aim to “implement confidence-building measures to address the underlying issues of the conflict, the demilitarization of borders and the concentration of all large weapons under international observation.”
“A cessation of hostilities and vigorous resumption of a political track will help ease the humanitarian crisis as well,” he added.
“It is time to end this conflict, replace conflict with compromise and allow the Yemeni people to heal through peace and reconstruction.”